My Take

Why tiger mum Amy Chua may have it wrong about how to raise successful children

Her theories have been debunked by psychologists, who conclude: ‘What is new is not correct, and what is correct is not new’

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 April, 2016, 1:08am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 April, 2016, 1:59pm

I have a soft spot for alpha tiger mum Amy Chua. A day after The Wall Street Journal published, in 2011, ‘Why Chinese mothers are superior’ – the article that came before her mega-bestseller Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother – which triggered the whole parenting debate, I wrote a front-page story in the Post about the furious readers’ response to Chua’s op-ed.

I could reasonably claim to be the first Hong Kong reporter to write about what would become a global educational debate well before it did become one. But I digress.

Two years ago, Chua followed up, with her husband and fellow Yale law professor Jed Rubenfeld, with The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America.

The book offers an unorthodox theory of professional success. This time, it sparked a comparably angry response from social scientists. How dare two law professors invade their research territory!

The book argues that a combination of racial superiority, a personal sense of inferiority/insecurity and strong impulse control explains why some ethnic minorities like Jews, Indians and Chinese produce many successful people in America.

A new study by two psychologists, Christopher Chabris and Joshua Hart of Union College in the US, claims to have disproved the thesis. Call it the revenge of social scientists. “Does a ‘Triple Package’ of traits predict success?” – published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences – finds no correlation between the combination of the three traits with success.

The pair wrote: “We found in two sizable samples (combined N = 1258) that parents’ level of education and individuals’ own cognitive ability robustly predicted a composite measure of success that included income, education, and awards. Other factors such as impulse control and emotional stability also appeared to be salutary. But despite measuring personal insecurity in four different ways and measuring success in three different ways, we did not find support for any plausible version of Chua and Rubenfeld’s proposed synergistic trinity of success-engendering personality traits.”

In other words, if your parents are well-educated and you are reasonably bright and emotionally stable, you have a good shot at success. But we already knew that.

“What is new is not correct, and what is correct is not new,” Hart and Chabris wrote.